‘Take It Upon Your Shoulders To Change The World’: Leadership Lessons From Anton Vincent, President of Mars Wrigley
By Mary Shea Watson
Though Anton Vincent had a challenging journey to president of Mars Wrigley, it was a journey Vincent knew he always wanted to take.
He grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, as the youngest of five boys in a community that didn’t have a lot, Vincent says, and committed himself to excellence as he recited Sunday school lessons in front of his childhood church’s congregation, achieved as a championship student-athlete throughout college, and became empowered by his parents fight for civil and voting rights.
As the inaugural Career Center Leadership Speaker at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Vincent joined Casey Floyd (GEMBA ’17), director of employer engagement and recruiting, and Jeff Tang (MBA ’13), senior director of general management and marketing careers, in a virtual Q&A with the Darden community and offered the following insights.
Have Integrity to Survive ‘the Right Places at the Wrong Times’
During his first job out of college selling insurance door-to-door in the Dallas suburbs, Vincent became the victim of corporate embezzlement. The first day out of training Vincent’s next job at Fidelity Investments was 19 October 1987 — “Black Monday” — the largest single-day percentage drop in the Dow Jones stock market in Wall Street history. With the help of his next role at the pioneering telecommunications firm MCI, now known as Verizon, Vincent discovered his passion for brand management and enrolled at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
That propensity for humble leadership amid adversity and an interest in enterprise business leadership helped launch Vincent into executive roles at General Mills. It also led Vincent to his current position at the helm of Mars Wrigley North America — the largest subsidiary of Mars Inc., the $40 billion private, family-run company whose iconic portfolio includes M&Ms, Snickers, 3Musketeers, Twix, Orbit gum, Starburst, Skittles, LifeSavers, Altoids and many more.
Be Clear on Your Objectives and Your Purpose
Vincent attributes his clarity of purpose as the key driver in many of his professional choices — from his dedication to the marketing function and consumer product goods sector while in business school, to executing Mars’ ambitious goal to transform the core of the company.
“Any marketing that is great is contextual: it has to be contextual to its target consumer and occasion and to what people are moving toward in their lives,” Vincent said. “Every marketing element has an objective and a purpose. Mixing those elements is where the art is.”
Get Into Areas Where You’re Uncomfortable; It’s Where You’ll Grow the Most
After Vincent’s MBA internship with Kraft Heinz, he didn’t receive a full-time offer to return to the firm after graduation. (“Trust me, you’ll be fine,” he assured an audience that included First Years who are beginning their MBA internship recruiting.) After reflecting on the experience, Vincent realized his resistance to ask for help contributed to not receiving a full-time offer.
“It wasn’t in my DNA at the time to ask for help or share my work. I wanted to do it all or prove a point rather than ask for help,” Vincent shared about his experience learning to collaborate and co-create. “Now, I sit on top of a large enterprise and there’s no way I can know everything that’s going on. Instead, I focus on fostering openness and transparency to create the best environment for success.”
Be Aligned With What Your Global Consumers Want and Value
How consumers value food is part of a much larger value system, which will intensify as the globe’s commitment to sustainability accelerates, Vincent explained. When he was a key member of General Mills’ $10.6 billion acquisition of The Pillsbury Co. — what Vincent referred to as the most rewarding business project of his career — he experienced firsthand the learning curve associated with acquiring, running and growing an international food company.
“Business is so integrated across functions and geographies. You have to know how to think strategically, execute and understand what a truly global business means,” Vincent said. “Today, everyone is in a global business.”
You Are Exactly Where You Need To Be, So Cherish and Build These Relationships
As his final advice to the Darden community, Vincent, who met in a separate session with the Black Business Student Association and Black Executive MBAs student groups, encouraged students to take full advantage of all the opportunities afforded to them as they pursue their Darden MBA. He asked students to be proactive in their academic and professional pursuits while they grow as intellectuals, leaders, and global citizens — especially during what he coined as “the most interesting time in history.”
“These are the people who you’re going to change the world with. You’re going to be calling one another in three or four, or 10 or 15 years from now when you get that big promotion or when you need help filling in the gaps. I do it all the time. ” Vincent said. “You’re going through this time together, and these friendships and professional relationships will last for a lifetime.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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